Let everyone submit to the governing authorities, since there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are instituted by God. (Romans 13:1)
Our judicial system, governors, mayors, police officers, traffic laws, military, school principals, and for us in Hawaii, even our lifeguards, have been instituted by God for our good (13:4). God uses these authorities to carry out his justice and order, to keep people safe and treated fairly, all so that societies can flourish. This is just another incredible evidence of God’s common grace over the world! (Matt. 5:45)
Paul gives these civil instructions after his in-depth proclamation of the gospel in chapters one to twelve, which means that the gospel should so shape and influence a person’s life that it shows in their civil duties in society. Paul gives us examples of what it looks like, instructing, “Pay your obligations to everyone: taxes to those you owe taxes, tolls to those you owe tolls, respect to those you owe respect, and honor to those you owe honor” (13:7). A person transformed by the gospel should be one of the most upright citizens, and also contributors to society.
These governing authorities instituted by God are “God’s servant, an avenger that brings wrath on the one who does wrong” (13:4). These authorities are meant to protect us against people who have wrong and hurtful motives, and also when we might experience similar intentions as well. But what happens when the authorities are the perpetrators? Paul tells us in the previous chapter “Friends, do not avenge yourselves; instead, leave room for God’s wrath, because it is written, Vengeance belongs to me; I will repay, says the Lord” (Romans 12:19, 21). God does and will severely judge those who misuse their power. But God may also call you to defend yourself as Paul did, when he pursued justice for the false accusations made against him (see Acts 24-26). Either decision requires you to seek God’s wisdom in sincere prayer (James 1:5) and seek advice from God’s people (Proverbs 11:14, 12:15). And each decision we make should have Jesus’ glory and the gospel at the forefront of our mind, as it did for Paul (Acts 26:7). So let’s keep honoring “the laws of the land” which God has instituted for our good.